When: Saturday, December 17 — 7:00 p.m.
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse — Indianapolis, Indiana
Radio: UConn Sports Network
Odds: UConn -8.5, over/under 139.5
KenPom Predicted Score: UConn 75, Butler 66
UConn men’s basketball returns to action Saturday against the Butler Bulldogs, signaling the start of Big East play after the Huskies’ finals break. Last Saturday, UConn crushed an undermanned LIU squad for an easy 53-point win but has a much tougher task this time around.
Butler, now led by former Ohio State coach Thad Matta, has the Bulldogs competitive once again with eight wins and three losses, all of which were against opponents inside of the KenPom top 60. Matta’s team enters Big East play as winners of four straight after dispatching a lowly Cal squad 82-58 before their finals week break.
When Butler has the ball
The Bulldogs have an efficient and balanced attack, with five players averaging double figures in an offense that ranks 12th nationally in effective field goal percentage. While Butler doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, it has a pair of efficient sharpshooters in Purdue transfer Eric Hunter Jr., who led the Big 10 in 3-point percentage last season, and Simas Lukosius, who broke out last season as a freshman with an impressive performance against the Huskies. Both players shoot over 41 percent from deep and average 12.5 and 11.5 points per game respectively.
Lukosius, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, is also the team’s best distributor and has shown an impressive ability to score at all three levels. With the Lithuanian product being a major key to the Bulldogs’ offense, he’ll likely be Andre Jackson’s primary defensive target.
Aside from Lukosius, Jayden Taylor leads Butler with 14.9 points per game, followed closely by Chuck Harris at 14.5 points per game. This duo represents the core of the Bulldogs' offense along with big man Manny Bates, an NC State transfer who has made a significant impact in the post. Bates, averaging 13.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, does most of his damage around the rim and is a physical presence at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds. While he will have to contend with the likes Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan all game, Bates does get some practice in against former Buckeye legend and former First Team All-American big man Greg Oden, who serves as Butler’s Director of Basketball Operations and occasionally suits up for practice.
While Butler’s offense is efficient, especially inside the arc, it struggles mightily grabbing extra chances on the offensive end, ranking 305th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. This will make things tough against a Husky team that dominates the glass on both ends. UConn’s offense ranks higher in effective field goal percentage and offensive efficiency but remains an elite rebounding team, ranking 18th in offensive rebound percentage.
When UConn has the ball
Aside from Bates, an excellent shot blocker who averages nearly three blocks per game, the Bulldogs essentially have no one else on the roster that can match the size and strength of Sanogo or Clingan. With little to no depth in the frontcourt behind Bates, expect Dan Hurley and the Huskies to lean into their two elite big men to challenge Bates and get him in foul trouble. If Bates has to sit for any extended period of time, it could be the difference UConn needs to pick up yet another double-digit victory.
Clingan, fresh off Big East Freshman of the Week honors, has already established himself as one of the top freshmen in the country but looks to keep his momentum going heading into conference play. While the Bristol Central product isn’t playing a ton of minutes, he’s been extremely efficient, with two double-doubles already under his belt, both of which came in under 20 minutes of game time.
Having Clingan play so well to spell a player like Sanogo with basically no drop-off for significant stretches is a major luxury for Hurley and one that UConn will continue to exploit as they face teams thin in the frontcourt like the Bulldogs.
In the backcourt, UConn’s guards have been solid but turnover prone so far this season. The Huskies have a turnover percentage of 18.4 percent, 137th nationally, and have committed 15 or more turnovers four times already this season. While it’s hard to nitpick an offense that is currently one of the best in the country by just about any metric, turnovers are an easy way to keep inferior teams in games and something an experienced backcourt should be able to minimize. Tristen Newton and Hassan Diarra in particular have struggled with turnovers at times, and the two can help the offense go to another level if they are able to be more careful with the ball.